In the last few years standards in bouldering have exploded. In 1998 doing the first ascent of a V10 would get your photograph in a magazine, and now it is hardly worth blogging about. Today it seems that perhaps a V15 first ascent will garner some attention but little else. Ascending a V13 gets your name in the news cycle for a day. The trend in climbing is that the test-pieces of today are the warmups of tomorrow. This has gone on throughout the history of our young sport. Clearly there are a lot of reasons for this: The advent of gyms, the incredible amount of beta available via the internet, the sheer numbers of people participating in bouldering.
It is also now possible to make a living being a professional climber, and even a decent one at that. I imagine top athletes in climbing make well over 6 figures and as events like Adventures NYC in New York City seem to indicate, the popularity of climbing is only growing. With increased monetary attention and increased participation (which increases competition) is it then ridiculous to suggest that steroid use in our strength based sport will become an issue in the next ten years?
Clearly in climbing competitions, testing for the drug should become mandatory, as is done in most major sports. Interestingly enough, rigorous testing hasn’t prevented athletes in almost every other major sport to try and use performance enhancing drugs. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco are just a few well known examples from one sport, baseball. Several World Cup climbing competitors have had medals stripped for cocaine or marijuana use. Even more dangerous (and interesting to the discussion) is the ease with which someone who climbs outside can use the drugs undetected, and subsequently earn money and support from companies for ascents climbed while using steroids. Is it naive to think that no climber has ever used anabolic steroids to enhance their performance on the rock? Should steroids be “allowed” in outdoor rock climbing? Is there, or should there be, anything done to try and stop this inevitability?
According to a publication cited in Wikipedia, steroid use can increase strength performance 5-20%, depending on the amount used and the duration, and that the upper body muscles, particularly the vastus lateralis and the trapezius muscle were the muscles measured to exhibit the greatest increase in muscle fiber size. Almost every climber uses caffeine, which is unquestionably a performance enhancing drug. Why then should steroids be any different? Where is the line drawn? Are any climbers today using steroids or other illegal performance enhancing drugs?
Will the heroes of climbing fall as they have in almost every major sport? It would be a sad day to see it happen, and I would be disappointed to see our sport go the way of so many others. Thoughts?